Cattle in pasture.

How to build herd health and get better vaccination response

As natural and organic marketing opportunities continue to grow, beef producers are challenged to maintain herd health while minimizing the use of antibiotics. Maximizing the herd’s immune response to vaccination programs is critical to improving the herd’s immune threshold to disease challenge, potentially reducing the need for antibiotics and increasing the number of weaned calves that meet natural program guidelines. 

As the calving barn begins to fill, now is a good time to develop or refine the current herd health program. For potential replacement females in the herd, the overall herd health program begins prior to birth and continues throughout their productive life in the herd. The health program not only helps maintain healthy animals, it also serves as an insurance policy, helping eliminate chances of outbreaks that could be financially devastating to the operation.

Develop a Good Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship

One of the most important aspects of establishing a health program is working with your veterinarian. Veterinarians can help recommend products and vaccination schedules that best fit the environment and livestock operation. They can also offer tips that will help maximize the herd’s response to vaccination and improve the overall protection. Developing a comprehensive herd health program for the entire year is important to guarantee adequate immunity is maintained throughout the year. 

Herd health programs are a coordinated effort between your veterinarian, manager and processing crew. In addition to working with your local veterinarian, follow the “top ten” guidelines to help guarantee a proper vaccine response and improved protection for the herd. 

Consider Pre‑calving Nutrition

In addition to the obvious connection between herd nutrition and calf health from birth to weaning, a considerable amount of research emphasizes the importance of pre-calving nutrition on subsequent calf health. A classic study by Larry Corah in 1975 illustrated the direct link between pre-calving nutrition of the dam and the considerable impact on the overall health of the subsequent calf crop. Pre-calving nutrition not only directly affects the weight, energy reserves and health of the calf born but also the amount of colostrum produced and mothering ability of the dam. 

Recent research at the University of Wyoming and North Dakota State University emphasizes the importance of nutrition during early gestation, when major organs and endocrine systems are formed, and on subsequent calf health and performance.

Provide Minerals 

Primary and secondary mineral deficiencies can also affect the animal’s ability to mount an immune response, both to a vaccination and to disease exposure. Mineral issues in the intermountain West typically involve copper and its antagonists, including iron, sulfur and molybdenum. Selenium can also be an issue on some operations. In many cases, if nutrition and vaccination management have been addressed and there is still an overall herd health problem, mineral analyses of hay, pasture and water samples may be needed to adequately evaluate the herd situation.

Communicate with the Team

Veterinarians, neighbors, extension educators and state specialists are valuable resources when evaluating and modifying the operation’s overall heard health program. All can provide information to help decision making. As mentioned, targeting some of the natural programs has created an emphasis on preventative herd health and raising the overall herd resistance to minimize antibiotic use. Vaccination programs, herd nutrition, mineral management and coordination with your team are all important components to herd performance – and that’s something to think about while waiting for the next midnight calving check.

Paisley’s Top ten for an effective program

  1. Read and follow label directions for all vaccines, antibiotics and parasite control products.

  2. Follow proper Beef Quality Assurance guidelines and place all shots in front of the shoulder.

  3. Use hot water (180 degrees) to sterilize equipment. Do not use disinfectants when administering modified live vaccines.

  4. Keep all vaccines out of direct sunlight to prevent UV damage and store in a cool place — even when the product is loaded in the syringe.

  5. Color-code or mark syringes to avoid mixing or giving the incorrect dose.

  6. Do not administer more than 10cc of product per injection site.

  7. Mix only enough vaccine to be used in one hour or less to maintain maximum effectiveness.

  8. Choose the correct needle for the job and replace needles often.

  9. Observe the proper withdrawal times for all antibiotics.

  10. Keep records of vaccinations, medications and feed additives used.

Steve Paisley is the UW Extension beef specialist and an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science. His specialties are beef cattle nutrition and management. Contact him at (307) 837‑2000 or

Reprinted from the 2016 Barnyards & Backyards newspaper insert.

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